U.I.L.D.) program aimed to increase community involvement in children's lives as a way of increasing education. Watching the video describing B.U.I.L.D.'s programs, it was interesting to see that some of the community activists did not even seem concerned about education, specifically. For example, Rev. Charles Thomas began by talking about the conditions in a local park, how it has been abandoned by the city, and how people cannot expect teachers to bring their students to these dangerous parks to play. He was followed by a woman explaining that children fight because they have not been given the opportunity to play together (Annenberg Media, 1999). It was a profound statement, because it is so easy to dismiss children playing. After all, play is seen as having very little real value, just being a form of recreation. What adults tend to forget is that in play children model adult behaviors. It is through play that children learn how to interact with one another. Take away the opportunity to play, and you take away a child's opportunity to model and practice adult behaviors. In neighborhoods where children are not safe going outside to play, children are routinely and systemically denied this opportunity to learn.
What B.U.I.L.D. did to help remedy this problem was to create the Child First Authority. The Child First Authority is a school reform strategy operating through afterschool programs by organizing parents and making them partners in education (Annenberg Media, 1999). People in the community were really concerned about the safety of their children after hours. However, many parents failed to get involved and actively increase safety for their kids. Teachers and other educators often saw this lack of involvement as parental apathy, a perception that continued until B.U.I.L.D. engaged in significant community outreach. What they discovered is that parents were not apathetic, but that many of these parents were working multiple jobs and were unable to meet with educators during traditional meeting times. Moreover, the financial demands on these families were often so great that parents did not have the opportunity or ability to provide for greater supervision for their children in the hours after school (Annenberg Media, 1999). B.U.I.L.D.'s solution was to create a program, the Child First Authority, to establish an afterschool program that would involve parents, teachers, principals, and community volunteers trying to meet the needs of the students in that school (Annenberg Media, 1999).
Because community involvement was so low at the beginning of the program, B.U.I.L.D. did not rely upon the traditional invitational appeal to parents to become involved, assuming that, in doing so, it would only reach parents that would be involved regardless of the type of outreach conducted. Instead, it sent people into homes to find out what parents for thinking, to find out the concerns of everyone in the neighborhood, not just those parents that would come to meetings at the school (Annenberg Media, 1999). Armed with that information, B.U.I.L.D. set about establishing the type of after-school community program that would meet the needs of the community as well as of the students and educators. It met with a high rate of success.
However, it would be misleading to suggest that programs like B.U.I.L.D.'s are universally successful. As a spectator, one of the frustrating parts of the video was a parent who complained about seeing excerpts of the principals and counselors suggesting that parents are ultimately accountable and have the most power in an educational setting. That parent suggested that those statements were dismissive of her concerns, because, as an individual parent, she had little actual power (Annenberg Media, 1999). Hopefully as programs like those described in this paper become more and more successful, parents will come to understand that they do have actual power. If the B.U.I.L.D. program was combined with another program, such as the Parent-Mentor program, which was aimed at empowering parents by giving them actual life skills, it might be even more successful. The reality is that some parents are going to enter into the educational system with that same helpless attitude displayed by the parent in the video. She was probably not a parent who would have been involved absent outreach by the school. While communities, schools, educators, and other parents should not have to teach parents about accountability and the fact that they are ultimately the ones responsible for ensuring that their children receive quality educations, the reality is that many parents do not understand this. Community outreach programs like B.U.I.L.D. that actually reach out into the community and do not rely solely on volunteer participation for information, can actually change the way parents view their role in the educational process.
Almost all of the research information discussed how community groups can be used to help develop programs in urban areas. However, it is important to keep in mind that programs like B.U.I.L.D. can be used in suburban areas as well. My community is not the traditional urban community that one thinks of when talking about problems in schooling. However, it is a lower-to-middle class suburban area. The parents in the community face many of the same challenges as parents in urban areas. In fact, graffiti, drug use, and increased violent and non-violent crimes have all taken their toll on the community. Left unchecked, the decline in suburban communities like mine will lead to suburban blight, a phenomenon that is seen as urban expansion in many areas. Programs like B.U.I.L.D. could be used to help stave off this suburban blight. One of the problems with students having free time and little direction is that it encourages children to be involved in petty criminal activity. This petty criminal activity, in turn, invites greater criminal activity, because it makes it appear that a neighborhood is going to tolerate illegal behavior. However, like in urban areas, the same core group of parents seems to volunteer at school, in sports, and in other activities. In the suburbs, this group of parents tends to be more affluent than other parents and may not have the same concerns as less affluent groups. Using an approach like the one in B.U.I.L.D., which uses substantial community outreach to determine the needs of all segments of the community, one could determine how best to serve the kids in the local schools. This would almost certainly erase some of the perceptions of racism or racial division that currently dog the local school system.
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